Tennis superfans who camp overnight for entry to Wimbledon have said making the famous queue partly virtual next year is “a disastrous idea”.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has said it is considering making its queue for on-the-day premium tickets partly digital after a marked dip in attendance this year.
Officials told the Daily Telegraph that potential changes could include allowing fans to leave the line once they have scanned in and then receive an alert when they can enter, while tickets could also become available online.
The physical queue is expected to remain in some form, but most likely with a reduced capacity.
Veteran fans who were in the queue on Sunday morning opposed the idea of a virtual queue in any form, saying it would detract from the atmosphere and allow people to claim tickets easily only to drop them later.
Siblings Samantha Watson, 34, and Joe Watson, 30, who have been joining the queue since 2008, said the experience is what makes Wimbledon uniquely British and distinct from other sporting events and even the other grand slams.
Mr Watson, an engineer from Saffron Walden in Essex, told the PA news agency: “I love the camping. That’s a lot of what we come here for.”
Asked if he would support giving people an online option alongside the physical queue, he said: “The thing is, if you come and camp you almost want to be rewarded for the loyalty of camping and actually being here.
“A lot of people from all over come here because they wanted to experience a proper English queuing system, and there’s a lot of value to that.
“It’s the only sport where you can camp for front-row tickets rather than it being by luck or having contacts, like in football.
“It feels good that the everyday person has got the opportunity at the front.”
Ms Watson, an insurance consultant in Fulham, west London, said: “It’s quite a big culture thing – we’ve got loads of people that we see here every year, we’ve been doing that for 10 years now, and we’ve made lifelong friends.
“In the queue, the first 500 get the Centre Court, whereas if it’s virtual, they could just not turn up on the day.
“You’re never really going to know where you are in the queue any more if you can’t see how many are in front.”
The duo paid £145 each for Centre Court tickets.
Ursula, 58, who travelled from Vienna to join the queue, said she would miss the experience if more people opted to queue virtually rather than in person.
The school teacher told PA: “We are coming for the atmosphere, this is part of the game.
“If they stop it, we would be sorry, we would be sad.
“For us, it’s a big chance to get a ticket and watch the players from so near on the court, so I hope it will not be only on the internet.”
Emily, 42, a doctor from Cambridge, said: “There’s a certain sense of earning your place in the queue to attend a Centre Court match to watch the greatest players of all time.
“The virtual platform will take that whole experience out of the equation.”
Danja Erasmus, 47, a physio practice manager from South Africa who lives in Wimbledon, south-west London, was camping with boyfriend Geoff Smith, 51, a dog carer from Oxfordshire.
Every year, Ms Erasmus hosts an unofficial community tennis tournament on the fields where people queue, which she said draws hundreds of spectators.
The tennis fans use white tape to mark out a court and play for around seven hours during middle Sunday, which was traditionally a break for professional matches at Wimbledon.
Mr Smith’s friend has even 3D-printed a golden replica of the men’s singles Wimbledon trophy for the winner, complete with the pineapple on top.
On the idea of a virtual queue, he said: “I would say it would be a disastrous idea, because this is community, this is the tennis community.
“We all love it, we enjoy the camping as much as watching the tennis.
“It’s a chance for tennis-loving people from all over the world to meet each other.”
Asked if a digital system could widen accessibility for disabled people, he said they already have priority access which is “a really good thing”.
Ms Erasmus said of the queue: “It’s a nice community, for me it’s my highlight of the year to have my holiday, and it’s nice to share experiences.”